Even in this modern society where people are encouraged to make a stand against something they believe in, it is not often that they have the courage to take the step to make it happen. Eliza, creator of ‘Lives Not Lives’ is one young woman who has never been afraid to speak up against injustice and the seriousness of Knife crime within youth culture. ‘Lives Not Knives’ is an awareness campaign which aims to educate young people and to raise awareness about the implications of carrying knives and the affects it can have when knives are used. I had the opportunity to see first-hand the work that ‘Lives Not Knives’ do and their positive influence when I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Youth Vote’ event at London’s Ministry of Sound’
Women that stand for something positive is what the ‘Wonderwoman’ section of In-spireLS embodies and it was only a matter of time before I got the opportunity to gain a deeper insight into what encouraged Eliza to start this phenomenal campaign, what high points and low points she has had to overcome along the way, how much of a difference she feels ‘Lives Not Knives’ makes and where she sees the campaign going in the future. This is one truly remarkable woman and we are honoured to share her story with others. Be in-spired!

Eliza what you started back in 2007, happened in many ways by accident. Like many young people your age, you had a growing disdain about the amount of young people who had been hurt or fatally killed as a result of knife crime. It was when you wore a statement tee with the word ‘Lives not Knives’ emblazoned on the front that friends and family started to notice. Were you prepared for what was about to come and the impact the campaign was about to have?

ER: The answer is no, I didn’t realise that so many people felt as passionately about youth crime as I did.  I also didn’t expect so many young people to support me.  I didn’t expect the impact that it made on the community and the positive media.

When people started taking notice and demand got higher you had to make more t-shirts. How did you manage to fund it?

ER: My family and friends rallied together to organise events for young people, we organised music events, conferences and a Valentine’s Ball to raise funds to make more t-shirts and started fundraising. From the money you raised from t-shirts and ticket sales you were able to plan and organise an event with the purpose of encouraging young people from all walks of life to join together and have fun without the need for violence. The event proved to be a major success with over 150 young people turning up. This event gave you the opportunity to get the young attendees to sign a petition to ‘make our streets safe’. Once the event had finished where did you take the petition and what were your next steps? ER:  We sent the petition to Boris Johnson, because of this I was invited to speak at City Hall and sat on the board of the Guns, Gangs and Knives board at the Home Office.  This is when the campaign started to make an impact within my community and more young people began to get involved.

So many young people turn to a life of crime because they lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. Many people blame their upbringing but in your opinion, what other factors can contribute to young people getting involved in anti-social activity and carrying knives and more importantly aside from your campaign, what do you feel needs to me be done to help deal with this major issue which is still very much on the rise?

ER:  Many young people feel excluded from society, either by being excluded from mainstream school, having learning disabilities, or being brought up in the care system. These are just some. Sometimes, their parents are working day and night to pay the bills and some parents have their own problems, for example, mental health, alcoholism or drug abuse.  I feel young people are a product of their environment, it is imperative that young people are shown positive ways of improving their lives by improving a system that I feel is failing a lot of young people.

There are so many negative preconceptions about youth and the London riots that took place last year didn’t help matters. How have you managed to encourage higher authority figures that the youth are not a lost cause and that campaigns like yours are vital in educating young people to empower and better their lives?

ER:  Statistics show that the involvement of young people in the civil unrest last August was not as high as most people are led to believe.  We should be thinking about the adults that were involved in the civil unrest and the impact it is having upon our generation.  LNK have been fortunate to have been funded by the Home Office and Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, to be able to train mentors and deliver preventative programmes within 30 primary schools and 15 secondary schools to date.

Now you first started highlighting the major issue that is knife crime within youth at the very young age of 14. At this time you must have had other commitments especially when it came to your education. How did you manage to strike a balance?

ER: At the time I was excluded from mainstream school.  I concentrated and put most of my energy into building a sustainable cause that concentrated on giving young people a voice.  At the time I felt young people were not being heard within the community, I was lucky that I had a strong Mother and Grandmother to support me, but I was aware that a lot of my friends did not have this support.  This led me to trying to make opportunities for young people to have a voice.

Having watched your team in action, I was in awe of the work that you do and the influence that you have on many young people. Your team is vast! How did you grow such a dynamic team, who are the key players and how vital are their roles in the development of the ‘Lives Not Knives’ campaign?

ER:  I am fortunate to have continued support from my family and friends, who have volunteered over the years to support me and guide me to help LNK grow.  The LNK mentors and ambassadors, some have been working with LNK for a few years and some have recently joined. They are all amazing and they all give up their time to support LNK.  Most of the team have been affected by knife crime, either by being victims, perpetrators or losing a close friend.  They are all passionate about violent crime, this is the main reason that LNK have a dynamic team and each one of them have a story to tell, which is vital for the development of LNK. Being the creator of ‘Lives Not Knives’ means that you have to conduct many talks at rather big venues and to larger than life crowds. Have you always been a confident public speaker or is this a skill that you have developed over time? ER: I have always enjoyed public speaking and I hope to develop over time.

‘Lives Not Knives’ have had a great amount of support from influential figures from the entertainment and political world. How vital has their support been in promoting your positive message?

ER:  It is vital for everyone to acknowledge this pandemic and to act upon it.  I am very grateful for the support from each and every person that has either promoted the campaign, given their time, advice or followed LNK on facebook or on twitter.

In 2008, you met with Gordon Brown at No 10 which must have been a very important moment for you. What key factors did you bring to his attention and how effective do you think the meeting was?

ER:  I met Gordon Brown at a reception for the London Week of Peace, everybody who attended was inspirational and we all worked together for one goal, which was to end youth violence in London. Every time I see a young person on the news; another young person slain for no real reason it absolutely cuts me up. I have two young brothers and even I get worried about their safety. In February 2009, ‘Lives Not Knive’s organised a Valentine’s day Ball which saw you conduct a major balloon release. Each balloon had a message from a young person to another young friend or family member that they knew had died from a result of knife crime. This had to be a very emotional moment for all those involved. How important was it for you to run this event and what effect do you think it had on those who were involved? ER:  It was a very emotional evening, the worst part of the evening was knowing that every young person had a message to send to someone they had lost to knife crime, some young people had two or three messages to send…I hope for all involved, that they felt like they had someone to talk to. There is a generation of young people who are grieving for a friend or family member lost to knife crime and I don’t feel there are enough initiatives to support this.

I am a firm believer in the power of the pen. With words, major changes can take effect, when shared with the right people. You received funding from the 02, through the campaign ‘It’s Your Community’ to encourage the youth within the Croydon area to write poetry, draw pictures or write prose to illustrate any experiences they had had directly with knife crime or that they have seen loved ones experience. You were able to gain support from MP David Hanson who helped you negotiate with the Metropolitan Police to get over 4000 copies printed and distributed within Croydon Schools. How important was it for you to be apart of this project and what effect do you think it had?

ER:  This project brought together many young people from schools across the borough.  The works were completely unedited and printed exactly as the work was submitted. This project gave young people a voice to express themselves without peer pressure or prejudice, it gave some young people a chance to heal by expressing their feelings. We were able to distribute this work to most of the Croydon schools as a preventative tool for children and parents. For children, to show them the devastation that carrying a weapon can have upon another young person and for parents to realise that they must educate their children on the dangers of weapon carrying.

Too many young people look to entertainers to be their role models but to be completely honest with you, it is young women like you who are making major strides to ensure that a positive change is implemented within our community which I truly commend you for. Every role model, have their own key individuals who they look up to, who are yours?

ER:  My Mum and Grandma have always been my role models, they have supported me every step of the way and their words of advice have always been. “If you want something done, do it yourself”. They taught me to go and find my own opportunities and to not let anything get in the way.

What drives and motivates you the most?

ER:  I have always had a great sense of justice and this drives me.  People motivate me. For example if they ask me for my help it motivates me to find a way to help them. What in-spires you? ER: Anyone who is following their ambition or dream.

Do you have any positive quotations that you apply to your life? If yes, what are they?

ER:  “If you want something done….do it yourself” “Everyone is different…..some just like to Show Off about it”

How proud are you of your achievements to date with the campaign?

ER:  I am proud of all the LNK mentors and ambassadors and all the young mentees. I felt proud when LNK won a Philip Lawrence Award and a Diana Award, both Frances Lawrence and Maggie Turner are inspirational women and I feel honoured to be a part of their family.

There are many young men and women like you out in your community and beyond who may want to start their own campaign on a subject that is close to them, but have no idea of how to go about implementing it. What advice and words of wisdom can you offer them?

ER:  Go For It!  If you feel passionately about something, then you are half way there.  Build a strong network around you and don’t let anyone or anything put you off.

What’s next in the pipeline for the ‘Lives Not Knives’campaign?

ER:  We are working towards charity status to enable long term funding streams, which can help build a sustainable future for LNK.

Where and how can In-spireLS readers keep up with you?

www.livesnotknives.org https://twitter.com/livesnotknives https://www.facebook.com/LivesNotKnives www.livesnotknives@hotmail.com

Lastly, in the face of adversity, what would Eliza do?

Laugh!!

Thank you Eliza for answering our questions, please round them off by completing these sentences…… Dreams are…..waiting to come true!

Self confidence can…..be the key. I am at my best when……I have achieved. I am most focused on…….making change. I believe in…..individuality. With faith you can….keep trying. Three words that best describe me are……confident, outspoken and fun-loving. I am a ‘Wonderwoman’ because….I live life to the MAX.       W| Interview by Sasha Shantel                       I| Courtesy of Eliza Rebeiro

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